The Science Of Butterflies: What Actually Happens To Your Body When You Flirt

by Dan Scotti

You’re on the train. Let’s say you’re commuting home from work.

It’s later than usual, maybe around 7 pm, since you got stuck tying up some loose ends in the office.

Yet, let’s be real -- you’re not complaining. An uncongested subway is never anything to complain about.

You’ve got your headphones on, which, in a way, has become your subway modus operandi, playing Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon on shuffle.

You spy a pretty stranger sitting a seat over from you but choose to keep your head down and mind your own business. Although you did smile at her before doing so.

By the time “Speak To Me” starts to segue into “Breathe,” you’re wishing she would do just that -- spark up some casual conversation -- but you also know better than to expect any type of interaction with a stranger.

I mean, interaction with strangers usually manifests itself in the form of “flirting” -- unless you’re getting into an argument at the deli -- and you’d hardly want to risk the peace of your evening commute with rejection. But there’s something about this one girl who has you feeling especially inspired.

So you decide to take the plunge. You nervously pull off your headphones and muster up the courage to compliment her outfit. In other words, you officially begin to flirt (cue dramatic score).

Hey, flirting can be a real bitch, man. Let me tell ya. I love when people try to downplay the whole artistry to it, to boot, as if it’s some nonchalant occurrence that doesn’t require any thought.

You know, as if we’re all natural Patrick Swayzes just waiting to bless the dating world’s dance floor with our presence.

Well, allow me to set the record straight: Flirting DOES require thought.

When you consider that a little flirting could be the difference between a good first impression and walking past your potential wife, you’ll begin to realize how far a little flirting can go.

And, according to science, it appears flirting requires a lot more than just thought, alone.

In fact, the entire process of flirting -- from a physical standpoint -- is a lot more complex than you might think, but that doesn’t mean you should shy away from it. Like with most things, experience is the key to success.

According to The Week, the ability to flirt isn’t just a trivial part of your social health. As Eric Barker writes, in many ways flirting is more effective than looking good.

“It's not the most physically appealing people who get approached, but the ones who signal their availability and confidence through basic flirting techniques like eye contact and smiles,” says Webster University Psychologist Dr. Monica Moore.

And research supports her claim. According to BBC Science, much of flirting transcends through physical cues as opposed to spoken words.

So if you’ve never been the smoothest of talkers, equipped with witty pick-up lines and a subtle French accent, don’t worry too much.

With regard to conveying attraction, BBC reports that 55 percent is done through body language.

Similarly, 38 percent of attraction is shown through the tone and speed of our voices. Interestingly enough, however, only 7 percent of attraction is displayed through the specific words we’re saying.

So, in effect, as long as you’re focusing on strong, confident, body language and a decent conversational tempo, you could be speaking Mandarin – in the middle of Murray Hill – and turn out more successful than the dude in the corner of the bar fumbling for the “right words.”

When flirting, you’ll undoubtedly feel pressure to drop that perfect line – one that will win her heart over for all of eternity – but, relax, don’t do it.

You’d be better off hitting her with those laser beams – and by laser beams – I mean a pair of piercing eyes.

In a piece for the LA Times, Jessica Pauline Ogilvie explores the importance of eye contact, with the help of research conducted by Professor Arthur Aron, a social psychologist at Stony Brook University.

Using brain scans, Aron intended on gaining a better understanding of the processes that occur once people have fallen newly in love.

He discovered after a “magical meeting or perfect first date,” the systems in the brain that become activated are, more or less, “the same thing that happens when a person takes cocaine."

What he is referring to is the dopamine rush people will feel after becoming infatuated with another person, however, as Ogilvie continues to explain, “after the dopamine surge, research suggests two key hormones -- oxytocin and vasopressin -- enter the picture, encouraging couples to form emotional bonds.”

And these emotional bonds can ultimately be the ones that lay the groundwork for future relationships.

Keep in mind oxytocin -- which plays a role in forming those emotional bonds -- also gets released during periods of prolonged eye contact (in addition to physical contact and sex).

If you’re worried about approaching a girl in an unfamiliar setting, try to make eye contact, first. If she reciprocates, use your discretion from that point on.

If you felt the spark of a connection, maybe move a little closer and try poking at some conversation.

If you don’t feel any chemistry, it’s never too late to back away.

From my experience, a lot of “flirting” comes from intuition -- you’ll be forced to play it by ear. Sometimes you’ll be lucky.

Other times, not so much. It’s the luck of the draw, hombre. But, whatever you do, don’t try to play too hard to get.

That will almost always send the wrong impression early on -- especially in situations where people won’t always able to accurately gauge your intentions (like on a subway, for instance).

As BBC Science reports, it’s usually a losing strategy. And we can surely attest to that, too.